How to Create Awesome PDF Downloads with Interesting Images

We’ve created almost a dozen PDF downloads (eBooks) here at Small Business Trends over the past few years.  Typically these are compilations of tips or advice from readers like you.  One of the things we are learning is how to use images to make these PDFs more interesting and appealing.

Our first attempts had rudimentary formatting.  They looked like Microsoft Word documents, with our logo dropped in.  Basic — but not exactly scintillating to the eye.  More recently we’ve tried to make these PDF downloads  interesting by using one or a few carefully chosen images.  We usually go for royalty-free stock photography and images that we purchase.  We can get high-quality professional images in a wide range of subjects, styles and colors.  We don’t have to worry about copyright issues, because we know when we purchase them that we will have the right to use them without the need to pay ongoing royalties.

blue swirls

So, you’re no doubt wondering, what kind of images and how many?  Let me share a few things we’ve learned:

(1)  Get print-quality images — Some readers will read PDF documents online.  Others will print them out to read as hard copies.  If you want your documents to look professional when printed out, use print-quality images.  That means choosing images with a resolution of 300 dpi (not 72 dpi), and either a large or extra large image size (especially if you plan to have a full-page or half-page image).  If you do not use print-quality images, your PDF may look fine viewed online but  fuzzy or pixelated when printed, lessening the visual impact and professionalism of the document.

(2) Limit the number of images  — All things in moderation … and that goes for images in PDF downloads.  A good quality image that can be printed out without blurriness is not a small file size.  A print quality image may be 10, 20, 30 or more MBs in file size.  So don’t overdo it.  If you use too many images,  your document will be so large that it will be slow to download.  And while it is possible to compress PDFs, when amateurs like us try, often the image quality suffers — defeating the purpose of choosing a good quality image in the first place.  Also, the more images, the more printer ink or toner used up when the document is printed; therefore, it’s more economical for your readers to limit the number of images.

(3) Focus on the cover — Make the cover as eye-catching as possible.  First impressions matter, and they matter in a PDF eBook.  If you have to limit images to just one really high quality image, put it on the cover.  Remember, you can use other types of formatting to add visual interest throughout the rest of the document, including text callouts, lines, boxes, interesting fonts, or colored bullets for bulleted lists.

(4) Make it relevant — Most people will choose cover art that reflects the topic of the PDF eBook.  If your eBook is about computers, then an image with a computer or a person at a computer would emphasize the PDF’s topic.  However, my advice is not to follow this point slavishly — because a standard representational image can be boring and uninspired. Above all, you want the cover of the PDF to be memorable.  Remember that people will typically see a thumbnail of the cover online; that thumbnail image may be one of the factors to convince them to download the eBook. That brings me to my final point:

(5) Consider abstract designs and shapes — I personally enjoy abstract designs, swirls, and other shapes for cover art.  They inspire.  They add visual intrigue.  And they are suitable for a wide range of business topics.  The design of blue swirls at the beginning of this article (above) could make for an interesting cover on a PDF on any number of business subjects.

And shapes are not just limited to business themes.  The following peppermint swirls image could be suitable for a PDF about food or cooking or entertaining or similar topics.


The secret is, let your imagination go.  Emphasize quality over quantity.  A great cover image will spice up your PDF.

* * * * *

To see more inspiring images check out our Images for PDFs Album on Veer. FYI: We purchased the above images using some of our 10 free credits we got when opening an account.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

8 Reactions
  1. I use a software for creating PDF documents because this is the way if you want to get professionally-looking results. Smart PDF Creator does this in a couple of clicks.

  2. I often download white papers and I hope that white paper creators also read this post because many of the white papers I see are dull and boring (the formatting that is, content is another ball of wax). Liven it up people!

  3. Anita: I get hungry for candy after this post! Have you interviewed someone from Veer on Small Business Trends Radio?

  4. Polly, thanks for sharing that resource. However, you still need to start with great images, or at least a great cover image. 🙂

    – Anita

  5. Robert — yep, I agree! Liven it up is right. I must admit, some of our earliest attempts were pretty boring without any images at all.

    – Anita